IBM to announce first copper-based supercomputer

However, IBM officials said they will use the new system to pursue application opportunities that are emerging in some of the lower-end commercial markets as well.

"We think this offering is well suited for commercial applications like server consolidation, Web serving, or ERP [enterprise resource planning] type applications. Users can use a system like our S80 to run a database, and then use one of these systems [the RS/6000 SP] as the applications server," Rod Adkins, general manager of Web servers at IBM, said today.

The new node is centred on the 64-bit 375MHz Power3-II chip, which the company claims doubles the floating-point performance of any existing system including SGI/Cray Origin 2000 and Sun Microsystems' E1000 as determined by the Specfp_rate95 benchmark.

The system's performance results are driven, in part, by its copper-wiring connectors, a technology IBM patented back in 1997. Company officials said one thumbnail-sized Power III chip can contain up to 400 metres of copper wiring.

"We have been seeing more than 20 per cent performance improvements in applications involving things like ERP, Web serving, and transactional processing because of the copper interconnects," Adkins said.

The Power III chip technology is the predecessor of the Power IV technology, not due in systems until the latter half of 2001. One of the major features of that chip is that IBM can package two CPUs (central processing units) onto a single core. The chip is also expected to be the first gigahertz processor running at over 1000MHz.

"It [Power IV] will be a multi-processor CPU and feature some new pre-fetching and super scaling attributes that will make it a much higher-performance computing solutions for many people," Adkins said.

The new system will be launched on Wednesday at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) as part of a dedication ceremony for that research centre's new RS/6000 SP. That system can support up to 144 nodes and 1152 processors.

The system, according to IBM officials, is believed to be the largest supercomputer in the US academic community.

Based on its processing power alone, some researchers believe the new system could break down barriers and lead to new scientific and medical discoveries.

"Being able to carry out simulations on this scale will allow researchers to better understand things like the workings of the human nervous system, or design the next generation of drugs against HIV," said Sid Karin, the director of the SDSC.

Prices for the new node start at $US6650, which IBM hopes will attract small-to-medium companies that can use it to operate a number of different e-commerce applications.

Separately, IBM will also announce this week it has manufactured its 2 millionth copper chip.

Users can obtain more information on the new system later this week at http://www.rs6000.ibm.com/.

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